Breathing Out in Worship
Here is a fantastic Q&A with Worship Leader, Matt Redman. His comments on a focus on breathing in God’s grace such that breathing out God’s praise is natural is right in line with the concept we were talking about at Encounter last night.
“…when you experience genuinely the deliverance of the Lord – you can no more keep yourself from raising your hands and your voice in all abandoned adoration and praise than you can keep your heart from beating!” – from Encounter, March 2.
Q&A with Matt Redman
It seems appropriate that Matt Redman was born on Valentine’s Day. Redman’s life has been devoted to helping others express their love to God. He’s behind well-loved worship songs such as “Blessed Be Your Name” and “The Heart of Worship,” and he has also helped pioneer a breed of worship music that has less to do with a single leader than it does with a team committed to leading others into an environment of praise. He talked to us about teamwork, changes in worship music and accusations that praise choruses are shallow.
Q: As you’ve traveled, you’ve seen a lot of different ways people worship around the world. How have you seen people around the world respond different to worship songs?
A: You get to realize what strength a particular country has. In South Korea, they’re just amazing intercessors. If you start getting them to pray for the nation, you’ll hear a wall of noise. Some places—particularly in South Africa—there’s a joy and a freedom of movement and dance. It’s the same, but you get to realize strength.
Q: What makes your new album, Your Grace Finds Me, different?
A: This one, from day one, was a team effort. There’s a real recognition in me over the last five years that together, we’re better. Some of the songwriting partners are pulling the best out of me. Hopefully I’m doing the same for them.
It’s interesting. In a way, why wouldn’t you work like that? The Kingdom of God seems designed to work like that. Jesus didn’t send the disciples out on their own. On this album, there’s a time where we have four nations in the room at once. It’s really powerful.
Q: Does it ever become difficult to work in a team?
A: The people I’m working with are all friends. That counts for so much. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision to prefer someone else. Wisdom tells you that forcing your idea through is not the best idea. If you shoot down people’s best ideas, they won’t bring their best stuff. There has to be trust and vulnerability.
Q: From your vantage point, how is worship music changing?
A: The thing that encourages me most is there’s definitely a lot of intentionality towards going deeper. When people are throwing stones at the sort of things we do, the criticism is always the same: there’s not enough depth. They’re not tackling enough theological themes. On the one sense, you can’t take all of that on your shoulders. On the other sense, if you have to take it seriously. There’s a responsibility when you start putting words into people’s mouths for how they’re going to talk to God. I see so much intention to go deeper. In the songwriting sessions, we want to write great melodies. We’re putting everything into that. There’s always this question of, “Can we dig deeper? Are we painting the best view of God that we can?” As thrilling as it might be musically, at the end of the day, the thing that’s going to permeate people’s hearts is truth about God.
Q: Is that accusation of worship choruses being shallow valid?
A: Firstly, in the worst case scenario, people take the very cream of the crop that’s survived for centuries and compare it to the last 12 months of songs. That’s not a very fair comparison. But then there are some more acute criticisms. For example, a professor, Lester Ruth from Asbury Seminary, did a study about a decade ago on trinitarian content in modern Christian worship songs. I think he looked the 77 most sung songs most over the last 25 years and found there was very, very minimal mention of the fact that the God we worship is trinitarian in nature.
So, that stuff, you have to listen to that. That’s an essential thing. Then you ask yourself, why are we not including that theme? It might be the kind of thing where people get intimidated. You look at the old hymns, a lot of them were ordained, trained ministers writing these lyrics to these already existing tunes. A lot of these days have come into writing worship through the music door instead of through the trained theology door.
Firstly, you’ve got to pay attention. Secondly, you’ve got to have a bit of confidence. I heard the Bishop of Coventry say sometimes we think trinitarian theology is like higher up mathematics. You can only comment on it if you’re super brainy. Actually, when you become a Christian, you’re immediately a trinitarian theologian. The Holy Spirit illuminated you to who He was. And you went with Jesus to the Father. So, we mustn’t get intimidated. We’ve got to come to grips with these themes.
So, I do listen when people have comments about the theology. That’s important to me.
Q: How do you deal with the tension between performing and leading worship?
A: It’s difficult. If you led in a homegroup the way you led on a Passion stage, you’d be unbelievably terrible. And then, if you led how you led like you do at a homegroup at Passion with 60,000 students, that’d be just as bad. Some of it is drawing everyone together, getting everyone on the same page, there’s something amazing in that big crowd moment. You can’t do that in a mousey way. That’s going to take some muscle. Some exhortation. You’ve got to lead strongly. It’s a thin line.
Q: What do you say to people who are still going to church, but can’t quite feel the joy of worship the way they used to?
A: One of the things I’d say is “breathe in.” It’s impossible to breathe out before you’ve breathed in.
In this new album, the title track says “I’m breathing in your grace, I’m breathing out your praise.” That’s the rhythm of worship. You can’t breathe out till you’ve breathed in. People in that situation may need to breathe in again. Set your eyes on the glory of God. Call to mind the amazing glimpses of his faithfulness. Journey back to the Cross. Read about the Cross in the Gospels.
For me, sometimes, it’s the breathing in again. The breathing out is a natural reaction. It’s a reflex. So many times in worship, we focus on the breathing out side. I’m learning more and more as a worship leader, one of the important things you can do is focus on the breathing in element. Then you can’t stop people from breathing out.